“It is amazing to be here,” said Pedro Pascal in his first “Saturday Night Live” performance: a triumphant Season 48 episode for the sketch show, cross-promoting the actor/host’s hugely successful parts on Disney’s “The Mandalorian” and HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
“I was born in Chile and nine months later my parents fled Pinochet with me and my sister to the US,” Pascal continued in his opening monologue. “They were so brave, and without them I wouldn’t be here in this wonderful country. And I certainly wouldn’t be standing here with you all tonight.”
The 48-year-old actor began performing on screen in the late ’90s, appearing in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “NYPD Blue” among other popular TV series of the time. Pascal made his feature film debut in Julia Solomonoff’s “Hermanas” in 2005, and would later appear in “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Sweet Little Lies,” “Bloodsucking Bastards,” and more.
Pascal wouldn’t fully begin his rise to fame until landing the role of Oberyn Martell on “Game of Thrones” in 2014. The antagonistic Red Viper of Dorne saw Pascal charm, seduce, and battle his way through seven episodes before going out in a head-bursting blaze of glory as infamous now as it was spectacular then. Not long after, Pascal would join the cast of Netflix’s “Narcos” as Javier Peña: a real DEA agent who investigated the cartel of Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Around that time on the big screen, Pascal had parts in “The Great Wall,” “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” “The Equalizer 2,” and two-time Oscar nominee “If Beale Street Could Talk.” In 2019, he’d join his biggest property to date as “The Mandalorian” in a first-ever Star Wars series for Disney+. Pascal became part of the DCEU as a villain in “Wonder Woman: 1984” the following year.
“It’s an honor to be a part of these huge franchises like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Star Wars,’ but I’m still getting used to people recognizing me,” Pascal said on SNL. “The other day, some guy stopped me on the street and said ‘my son loves ‘The Mandalorian.”‘ And the next thing I know I’m FaceTiming with this six-year-old who has no idea who I am because my character wears a mask for the entire show.”
From “The Last of Us” to “Triple Frontier,” these 10 movie and TV performances are some of Pedro Pascal’s best. Titles are ranked not by overall quality, but by the value — or, in the case of No. 10 “Buffy” — novelty of Pascal’s performances in them.
With editorial contributions by Sarah Shachat, Samantha Bergeson, and Christian Zilko.
10. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Season 4 (1999)
Who Pedro plays: Eddie, a UC Sunnydale freshman overwhelmed by college life until he’s turned into a vampire
What it’s about: Season 4’s first episode finds Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) struggling to navigate college and her calling as the Slayer, and just when she meets a nice boy (Pascal) who seems like he’s going through a similar crisis, a gang of hot vampire co-eds jump him, turn him, and set him loose on Buffy, who has to stake him through the heart. Typical college stuff.
Why it’s great: It isn’t. Straight up, “The Freshman” is a rough opener to Buffy’s, let’s say uneven, Season 4, and the episodes that lean hard into the tropes of college life (or the short-lived Initiative based at UC Sunnydale) tend to suffer. But for folks looking for a blast from the past, Pascal is as far away from a daddy as he could possibly be here; it’s fun to see how, like Amy Adams and Kal Penn, Pascal’s star persona started from humble day-player beginnings. —SS
9. “Saturday Night Live” Season 48 (2023)
Who Pedro plays: Famed Nintendo plumber-turned-hardened hero of a prestige drama, Mario
What it is: Pascal was long overdue to host “Saturday Night Live.” The runaway success of “The Last of Us” provided the perfect excuse to give him the gig, and paved the way for a brilliant parody of HBO’s smash-hit video game adaptation via Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road. The episode’s best sketch sees Pascal channel everyone’s favorite mushroom-obsessed Italian through a smoldering antihero akin to Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive.” In the fake HBO trailer, Pascal’s Mario smuggles Chloe Fineman’s Princess Peach across dangerous territory prowled by Kenan Thompson’s ludicrous Bower.
Why it’s great: Between “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” and “The Princess Bride” charity remake from lockdown — in which Pascal played Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya hilariously — there’s no denying the “Game of Thrones” actor has comedic chops. (Hell, he almost made “The Bubble” funny.) There’s plenty you could call out from the Season 48 show, including Pascal’s strong opening monologue about his success across multiple major franchises. But this over-the-top Mario rendition best captures the feel of Pascal’s SNL performance overall: a self-aware sendup of a big and small screen heavyweight at the top of his game and having a blast. —AF
8. “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018)
Who Pedro plays: Pietro Alvarez, a Puerto Rican man whose girlfriend is the victim of a rape in the United States
What it is: Writer/director Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin’s hugely celebrated novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” in this two-time Oscar nominee starring KiKi Layne and Stephan James as lovers ripped apart by a case of mistaken identity.
Why it’s great: Pascal appears in only one short scene from this 2018 romance. But opposite Regina King, as the impassioned mother of a wrongly accused man, his performance is unshakable. As King’s Sharon pleads for the chance to speak to the woman who identified her son as a rapist, Pascal’s Pietro must grapple with both the weight of a parent’s pleas to free her son and the responsibility of protecting his love from further harm. The dilemma plays out across Pascal’s face subtly, as Pietro takes pensive drags from his cigarette and decides the fate of a man hundreds of miles away. —AF
7. “Wonder Woman 1984” (2020)
Who Pedro plays: Max Lord: a failing oil tycoon-turned-supervillain who becomes a kind of sentient Monkey’s Paw, granting wishes to unwitting victims who then become pawns in his quest for world domination.
What it is: This is Patty Jenkins’ only sequel in Gal Gadot’s “Wonder Woman” series: a divisive but delightfully unafraid nostalgia trip that takes comic fans back to a Reagan-era adventure with Diana Prince. Pascal arrives on the scene as an outrageous, power suit-wearing business boy who loses himself in a warped pursuit of the American Dream.
Why it’s great: Hitting his goofy ’80s one-liners with punch and delivering real terror from behind fake contacts, Pascal’s Max Lord is a generally good time. That might sound like faint praise, but doing even that much has proven a tall order in the flailing DCEU. “Wonder Woman 1984” is nothing if not consistently overwhelming, but Pascal brings giddy levels to his bombastic bad guy. There’s an up-down physicality to this villain that’s infectious, and makes the fanciful magic motivating the movie (the whole thing starts with a magic rock) feel a part of an enchanting narrative fabric that’s engrossing, if not exactly grounded. Consider this the “more is more” Pedro performance. —AF
6. “The Last of Us” (present)
Who Pedro plays: Joel Miller, a smuggler in post-zombie-apocalypse America
What it’s about: “The Last of Us” follows Joel’s journey to bring Ellie (Bella Ramsey) a 14-year-old girl who might be immune to the horrific variant of Cordyceps fungus that’s infected humans, across the country to where doctors might be able to use her to find a cure. To say the trip doesn’t go to plan horrendously undersells the amount of danger Joel and Ellie face together, and the amount of violence Joel becomes willing to mete out to protect his girl.
Why it’s great: Pascal imbues Joel with a haunted quality that rhymes with Troy Baker’s iconic performance from the video games but is wholly his own. He can turn on a dime from the beaten-down cynicism of a survivor to the calm toughness of a killer to showing the embers of his paternal instinct flaring to life. But no matter what he’s doing, Pascal shows us a man who has been broken by the world and, thrillingly, might just break it right back for Ellie’s sake. “The Last of Us” would not be so heartbreaking without the nuanced arc Pascal is able to trace for Joel. —SS
5. “Narcos” (2015-2017)
Who Pedro plays: Pascal plays real-life U.S. DEA agent Javier Pena, who traveled to Colombia to track down and capture drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
What it’s about: Netflix hit series “Narcos” was dangerously good. No, literally. The historical series detailing the arrest of Escobar led to a location scout being murdered in Mexico, and the series instead wrapping and moving in a spin-off.
Why it’s great: It’s hard not to swoon over Pascal as a charismatic and rational law officer. Plus, the real-life Pena served as a consultant on the series, making Pascal’s portrayal even more so rooted in reality. —SB
4. “Triple Frontier” (2019)
Who Pedro plays: Francisco “Catfish” Morales, a retired Delta Force pilot who joins an ensemble of retired combat veterans to steal millions of dollars in cartel money that’s stashed in South America
What it’s about: When a private security consultant working in South America (Oscar Isaac) learns the location of one of the world’s most wanted drug lords, he assembles a crew of his retired military buddies to find the guy and seize his $75 million in cash before the government gets there. They pose as government operatives in an attempt to beat the DEA at its own game, but soon get more when they bargained for when a series of snafus leaves them stranded in the Andes mountains.
Why it’s great: J.C. Chandor is one of Hollywood’s most competent purveyors of survival stories. His 2013 film “All Is Lost” turned Robert Redford’s one-man battle against the elements into gripping cinema, and “Triple Frontier” applied the same filmmaking principles to a much bigger story. While the excellent ensemble cast — which features Isaac, Ben Affleck, and Charlie Hunnam — probably created unrealistically high expectations for the film, it’s still a rock solid heist-gone-wrong flick with a well-executed jungle twist. For his part, Pascal rounds out the team with the kind of grizzled performance that would propel him to stardom in just a few years. —CZ
3. “The Mandalorian” (2019-present)
Who Pedro plays: Din Djarin of clan Mudhorn, Mandalorian bounty-hunter and proud father of a baby Yoda
What it’s about: The Mandalorian follows the journey of Djarin and Grogu, a force-sensitive child Djarin was originally hired to kidnap and is now raising as his own, across the galaxy post-“Return of the Jedi.” Although the show can offer glimpses into previously unseen corners of the Star Wars universe and the day-to-day work of a bounty hunter, the Mando and his boy have a touch of destiny about them – and they also have the Darksaber.
Why it’s great: Perhaps only Tom Hardy could’ve matched Pascal’s ability here to convey emotion and intention with just his voice, completely hidden underneath that iconic helmet. But when “The Mandalorian” has found excuses for Djarin to take off the mask, Pascal’s eyes full of mingled fear and love for his green puppet son cemented this character as one of the true heroes of the Star Wars universe. His work is compellingly restrained on a show that is very much not holding anything back, and Pascal’s cadence does more to carry the tone of “The Mandalorian” than all the LED volume screens in the galaxy. —SS
2. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (2022)
Who Pedro plays: Javi Gutierrez, an arms dealer and drug lord who also just happens to be Nicolas Cage’s number one fan
What it’s about: Nicolas Cage, playing a meta version of himself, travels to Majorca to meet a billionaire (Pascal) who offers him $1 million to attend his birthday party. While Nic and Javi bond over their shared taste in films, Cage is recruited by the CIA to help rescue a hostage Javi allegedly has hidden.
Why it’s great: Pascal is a Cage super-fan in real life and his admiration (and complete fandom) for Cage is evident in the wild action-comedy that revisits Cage’s best roles. “Face/Off” with Pascal taking over for John Travolta? A full-body pillow of Cage in Pascal’s at-home shrine? The blurred lines of fact vs. fiction make it all the more hilarious seeing Pascal gush over Cage onscreen. And his love for the Cage Rage continues even years post-production, with Pascal detailing how Cage’s performances in “Moonstruck” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” served as acting inspiration. It’s the superhero duo we didn’t know we needed, and Pascal seems to be having the time of his life living out his dream. —SB
1. “Game of Thrones” (2011-2019)
Who Pedro plays: Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, a Prince of Dorne who has a bone to pick with the Lannisters
What it’s about: There’s a lot going on in Season 4 of “Game of Thrones,” but Oberyn’s arrival in King’s Landing completely upends the dynamic for the characters in the capital. Ostensibly just there to witness Joffrey’s wedding (rip), Oberyn ends up first slinking his way onto the King’s council and then seizing the opportunity to seek long-awaited revenge for the murder of his sister by acting as Tyrion’s champion against Gregor Clegane in a trial by combat for the ages. It doesn’t go great for him.
Why it’s great: For a show that coined the term ‘sexposition,’ it is absolutely wild that it took “Game of Thrones” four seasons to get a character in there who truly fucks. Oberyn’s charisma modifier is simply higher than anyone else’s in King’s Landing, and Pascal plays the pansexual prince with enough “Who is THAT?” energy that it’s powered the rest of his career. But if Oberyn’s defining trait is his passion, Pascal also does as great a job expressing the darker, more subtle desires that make the Red Viper so iconic. —SS
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